Broward School Board renews deal with K12

With little discussion, the Broward School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a one-year contract renewal with K12, a for-profit virtual learning company that has been dogged by complaints from other districts.

Under the $300,000 deal, K12 will continue to provide online learning services to about 70 Broward elementary school students.

The state Department of Education inspector general last year investigated complaints from Seminole County that K12 illegally employed uncertified teachers and fraudulently submitted paperwork to cover up the practice. In a draft report, released in April, the state faulted K12 only for employing three teachers who weren’t certified in the subject areas they were teaching.

Broward administrator Christopher McGuire, who recommends renewing the contract, said the local families served by K12 appear pleased with the company’s performance.

“I’ve surveyed my parents,” said McGuire, who serves as school “principal” for Broward’s virtual middle and high school classes, which are run in-house by the district. “I don’t just take the word from the provider, I talk to the parents, they’re the ones who are dealing with this on a daily basis.”

McGuire’s positive assessment of K12 — the nation’s largest provider of online schools — contrasts with how the company has been received recently in some other parts of the country. In states including Maine, Illinois and Tennessee, elected officials in recent months have either questioned the quality of K12 classes or put the brakes on K12 expansion plans.

Florida school districts are obligated under state law to provide a virtual learning option. If Broward had canceled its contract with K12, it would have been forced to sign a new online-learning agreement with another state-approved company because the district’s in-house virtual school doesn’t serve elementary school grades.

Miami-Dade contracts with K12 to serve about 350 students across all grade levels.

Under the renewed Broward contract, K12 will receive $4,295 annually per student.

McGuire stressed that the state’s investigation did not find widespread problems with K12’s teachers.

That inspector general inquiry focused on complaints from the Seminole County school district in Central Florida, which sounded the alarm after receiving internal company e-mails from a former K12 employee.

The e-mails included a company manager telling Florida teachers to sign paperwork indicating they had taught certain groups of students — even if they hadn’t. The apparent motivation: K12 is legally obligated to have certified Florida teachers in its online classrooms. If a certified teacher took credit for students who weren’t really theirs, it would provide cover for K12 to use uncertified teachers, who can be paid less.

One K12 teacher wrote back to her supervisor: “I cannot sign off on students who are not my actual students,” adding that such actions were “not ethical.”

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting/StateImpact Florida first reported the state investigation last year.

In a statement released Monday, K12 Senior Vice President Jeff Kwitowski stressed that the state “concluded that the primary claims made by one county — Seminole County — were unsubstantiated. K12 teachers were certified to teach in Florida.”

The Seminole County school district, however, has complained that the inspector general failed to conduct a thorough investigation. Some allegations against K12 were ignored, an attorney representing Seminole County wrote in April, and the state didn’t check the dozens of other Florida school districts where the company enrolls students.

“If a statewide provider was utilizing a certain staffing practice, it is reasonable to expect that evidence of that practice may be found in other counties where that provider operates,” the district wrote.